- Zimbabwe is headline news after an apparent military coup.
- The BBC cited @zanu_pf as the official outlet of Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF party.
- In fact, it is a parody which usually posts jokes about murdering hipsters.
- BBC cited the account in online coverage and its flagship “Today” programme.
- The Today Programme/Facebook
The BBC credulously repeated claims about the volatile situation in Zimbabwe made by a well-known parody account it found on Twitter.
The broadcaster – usually renowned for its high standard of global affairs reporting – described @zanu_pf as the official account of the ruling party in the country, when in fact it is best-known for its jokes.
Radio 4’s “Today” programme, one of the most respected news shows in Britain, made claims about the whereabouts and personal safety of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe based on the account, as well as using it as a bellwether of the nation’s political situation.
It was also cited as official in tweets by the BBC’s World News account, which has 21.8 million followers. The message was later deleted, but Business Insider recorded a screenshot.
The account has been reported as a parody in the Zimbabwean press as long ago as 2013, and has repeatedly tweeted outlandish messages like “Hipsters should be shot” and “Can you imperialist land grabbing, porn watching, small pipped whites unfollow us immediately! Why would whites follow us?!”
At one point in Today’s broadcasting schedule, presenter Nick Robinson cites @Zanu_pf as “the official Zanu PF account” and spends around 25 seconds repeating its claims verbatim.
The following audio clip was broadcast at around 8.11 a.m. UK time:
Robinson includes a disclaimer that “we can’t be sure who controls that account,” but gave no sense that there was strong evidence to suggest that it is fake.
Here is what he said. We have linked each claim to its respective tweet:
“A tweet on the official Zanu PF account insists: There was no coup, and reports that last night the first family was detained and are safe both for the constitution and the sanity of the nation this was necessary.
“Remember of course we can’t be sure who controls that account, and indeed much of the information that is coming out cannot yet be confirmed.”
After news stories began to appear about the BBC’s reporting, the BBC World News account tweeted an apology for its actions, saying it had been “mistaken” about the veracity of the account:
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) November 15, 2017